Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province

Mahan Abedin writes in middleastmonitor.com, ‘The full implications of Saudi Arabia’s three-months old siege of the Qatif town of Awamiyah are only just beginning to emerge. Pictures depicting wholesale destruction and civil war-like conditions in the Shia-majority town speak to the intensity of the fighting. But more importantly, they provide a hint as to the nature of the threat facing the Saudi authorities …The Shia-majority Qatif governorate and the broader Eastern province within which it is situated has long been regarded as potentially hostile to the ruling Al-Sauds. The centrifugal forces in the Eastern province are critically important for three reasons. First, most of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority (by some estimates comprising up to 15% of the population) is concentrated in the Eastern province. Second, the province houses the bulk of the Kingdom’s oil and petrochemical industries. Third, the Eastern Province is Saudi Arabia’s access point to the Gulf …The current radicalisation on the ground is in part a legacy of the leadership deficit which is constantly exacerbated by provocative Saudi actions. The execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in January 2016 was highly provocative and entirely in keeping with the Saudi strategy of removing effective community leaders.
As for the association with Iran, the Saudi authorities regularly reinforce the connection by convicting local activists and professionals on Iran-related spying charges. Beyond Saudi-generated information, it is very difficult to assess the extent of Iranian involvement in local unrest. The Iranian intelligence services and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force undoubtedly deploy a hidden hand. But their influence is mostly concentrated on exiled Saudi Shia opposition networks, based primarily in Beirut, Baghdad and London. The direct Iranian influence on the ground in Qatif is likely to be minimal.’ click here